ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation, with funding from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, has launched a unique internship opportunity that will link Maine college students with new and growing companies.

The program, which is soliciting applications from students and businesses, involves paid internship positions which starting this summer will place students from Maine with companies that are starting up or aiming to grow in terms of revenue, employment and the development of new products or services.

According to Renee Kelly, co-director of the Foster Center, the program is an offshoot of a related program called Innovation Engineering, which trains students across numerous disciplines to think and act innovatively. It’s all part of the university’s and Blackstone’s goal of creating a pipeline of Maine entrepreneurs that eventually will benefit the state’s economy.

“We wanted to marry those two things together,” said Kelly. “The Innovation Engineering program is open to all students regardless of their major. It’s sort of about taking an engineering mindset and applying it to innovation.”

In the fall of 2011, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation announced it would commit at least $3 million in Maine and $50 million nationwide in its Blackstone Accelerated Growth initiative. Blackstone, which is led by investment tycoon Stephen A. Scharzman, is one of the world’s top investment firms. The charitable foundation aims to create more than 10,000 jobs in Maine over the next decade, which it says will add some $664 million in new revenue to the state’s economy. Blackstone is also a backer of the University of Maine’s Innovation Engineering project, where 37 students are studying this spring under Blackstone scholarships, and the Top Gun program at the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development. The Top Gun program is the subject of a blog hosted at www.bangordailynews.com.

According to Kelly, about 20 Maine companies, including O’Brien Medical, a medical device inventor and manufacturer in Orono, and the southern Maine-based EepyBird, which is recognized the world round for its stunts involving Diet Coke and Mentos, already have signed up for the internship program. Some of the companies are receiving mentoring and training through the Blackstone program.

In its inaugural run this summer, the program aims to fund at least 20 internships for students who are studying at any Maine college or university or students from Maine who are studying elsewhere.

“This is really about developing a cadre of students who get help and peer-network with one another,” said Kelly.

One of the requirements of participation in the internship program is that students attend a “boot camp” in May at the University of Maine. The boot camp will expose students to aspects of the Innovative Engineering program, including how to develop and market breakthrough ideas, and train them in matters such as networking and nondisclosure of a business’s intellectual property.

The paid internships, which are partially paid for by Blackstone through a matching funds agreement with the involved businesses, offer real-world experience for students as well as potential academic credit and networking opportunities. Applications for students, which are due on March 30, are available at the Foster Center’s website, foster.target.maine.edu. Applications for businesses interested in the program also are available there and are due by April 13.

“There are a number of Maine companies developing new innovations that are eager for talented students who understand the innovation process,” said Kelly. “By matching students trained in innovation engineering with these companies, we hope to help the companies grow while helping Maine students see that there are great opportunities to work and stay in Maine after they graduate.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.